EEA: ‘Pandemic is putting a damper on green progress’
Now that everybody has to stay home, air pollution and CO2 emissions have decreased, and plant and animal life prospers. Still, let’s not misjudge the situation, warns Hans Bruyninckx, executive director of the European Environment Agency (EEA). “This pandemic is rather putting a damper on the green progress,” he says.
Crystal clear water
Despite the spreading of the coronavirus, people all over the world claim positive effects. Smog in cities has disappeared, emissions of CO2 and particles have diminished, and people notice plants and animals “they’ve never seen” before the virus. Even the water of the Venetian canals has become so crystal clear again, people see can see fish swimming.
“Air pollution indeed has decreased significantly,” explains Bruyninckx, “because air traffic and transport on the road have almost come to a standstill.” The level of nitrogen dioxide in Barcelona decreased by 40% between 16 and 22 March. Compared to the same week last year, it is even 55%. Similar figures are available for China. “Figures for Europe are not known yet, but we will probably see a similar trend.”
Water quality has improved due to limited economical activities. Even noise nuisance – a silent and often underestimated killer – has almost disappeared. “I can understand that people desperately grasp at a straw in these difficult times.”
Bruyninckx, however, doesn’t share that optimism. On the contrary. “It’s not because the city is quieter, and the air is cleaner that we suddenly have the policy to turn our future mobility upside down.”
“It’s not because CO2 emissions are low that the climate is saved,” he continues. “Global warming will continue, and sea levels will keep on rising.”
Hans Bruyninckx hopes that after the corona crisis, we will make investments with a long-term perspective on sustainability. “We need well-thought-out and ambitious plans for it. What’s happening now, however, is crisis management, and the fundamental changes we need don’t get the attention they need, I’m afraid.”
The United Nations Summit in China about biodiversity is postponed. The UN Climate Summit in Glasgow is canceled as well. Bruyninckx: “So, our main concern now is how to survive this health crisis?”
“I’m not convinced that the corona pandemic will start an important green reset,” Bruyninckx continues. “Many people suffer terrible losses, self-employed people go broke. These are social dramas. We cannot neglect this. There is no base for an ecological way of living.”
Struggling to survive
In the meantime, some countries – Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic – already use the pandemic to put the European Green Deal on hold. “We have to be realistic,” Bruyninckx says. “You can’t expect that climate en the environment is the first priority now. People are struggling to survive.”
However, Bruyninckx is not pessimistic when it comes to the Green Deal. “The Deal is a huge investment mechanism. Financial leverage, which will inject huge amounts of money into the economy. And that’s precisely what we need now. So, fortunately, we have this Deal.”
According to Hans Bruyninckx, it will be a well-chosen way to control the necessary investments to make sure that the recovery of the economy will be green enough. If not, we’re turning back to ‘business as usual’, and that would be stupid because it will make us pay twice. “Once to recover from the pandemic and a second time to cope with the climate crisis. And I don’t think anybody would consider this a bright idea.”